Artist Tristan Eaton’s 25-year career has been a quest for self-discovery

In 2012, Tristan Eaton found himself at the center of a controversy. He was about to paint a mural in New York’s Little Italy – a child’s figure interspersed with animals: monkeys, a peacock, a tiger – when she was labeled “pagan” by a priest from the church adjacent to the wall in question.

After the New York Post published an article on the shutter, Eaton had to change gears. The head of the Little Italy Merchants Association, whom he initially approached with the idea for the mural, instead gave him a smaller wall.

“I have this other wall, this little wall,” Eaton recalls. “Paint the short wall. If we can get everyone excited about this, then maybe the great wall is on the table again. “

The plan worked. People loved the room and Eaton painted the larger wall. In a way, he’s only painted bigger and bigger walls since then.

This month, an exhibition celebrating 25 years of Eaton’s work debuted at the Long Beach Museum of Art. Originally planned for 2020, All at once: 25 years of art and design fills two entire floors, a large canvas, so to speak, for an artist and native Angeleno who is used to it.

Tristan Eaton designed the cover of Los Angeles magazine’s 2021 Best of LA issue

Tristan eaton

Born in 1978 in a birthing center above old Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset, Eaton grew up surrounded by artists and actors he lovingly describes as wild, crazy, and eclectic. When he was eight, his family moved to London, where his older brother, Matthew, got into graffiti. On the train to school, rushing to the spray-painted walls, Eaton remembers seeing pieces of his brothers’ crew splashed onto the city walls. Too young to join them, Eaton got busy drawing what he called superheroes and “hip-hop style” characters.

Eight years later, when his family moved to Detroit, he grabbed his spray cans to join in the fun. He and his friends were climbing through abandoned Michigan Central Station, a hub for graffiti artists and urban explorers, and he ended up meeting artists like Glenn Barr, Niagara, Mark Dancey and others with ties to the punk scene. from the city. When he was still a teenager he got a job at Highway Press, a screen printing store that printed rock posters, and bonded with Jerry Vile at Orbite review, where he started to work.

“I was a teenager around these art giants,” he recalls. “And it’s worth noting – their tolerance for the annoying young Tris made me a generous artist.” He didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the start of a long career in art.

At 20, Eaton moved from Detroit to New York, where he knew no one, had no money, and was struggling both financially and emotionally. It was hard, but eventually, in his words, the love story began. In New York City, Eaton painted motorcycles, made artistic toys, and started a design business. He made a living from his craft, trying to broaden his skills and learn as much as possible about himself as an artist.

When not in his legitimate day job, Eaton developed a “secret identity as an illegal artist.” Going through TrustoCorp, he started hijacking road signs, food labels and billboards, and injecting them with political messages he deemed important amid a rise in racist rhetoric after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. “I stole public space for messages,” he says. “That was my goal, to usurp the landscape to get messages that could be absurd, critical and cynical, but at least get them out there to speak to other people who feel that way.”

Perhaps unpredictably, a corporate gig working for Disney is what brought him back to LA. But before he left, he left his mark on New York City in the form of the Little Italy murals, which marked a return to spray paint that was a revelation for the artist.

“After all the things I’ve tried and failed, to my surprise, spray paint was waiting for me all the time,” he recalls. “It opened up this portal for me to do the most honest and best job I have ever done in my life.”

His return to the medium coincides with what he describes as a “giant explosion of public art”. In cities around the world, children who once slapped wheat pasta and labels had grown up. It was no longer necessary to steal space because we offered walls to artists.

Eaton was no exception. The TV show he moved to LA to work on didn’t last, but he saw it as a new beginning. He began to travel the world – Australia, Mexico, Paris, Germany, Guam – painting murals. Being granted space comes with more responsibility than usurping it. On the one hand, the created works are supposed to be permanent. When Eaton leaves a community, his murals remain in place, often becoming beloved landmarks. This is a responsibility that Eaton is fully aware of, and that is why it takes it into account. Could a splash of color in an otherwise gray cityscape change people’s behavior? He describes the “staring eyes effect”, a phenomenon where the presence of images of eyes causes individuals to modify their behavior.

“If so, what is a 15 story fresco fully illustrated with tons of iconography and figurative metaphor, how is that going to affect a community?” he’s asking himself. “It’s going to have an effect!”

He evokes a fresco he painted in a Brazilian favela. The locals who commissioned it believed that watching Eaton paint could have a positive influence on the neighborhood children, inspiring them to rise above their circumstances.

“Art can touch a part of people’s souls that is still pure,” he says, subconsciously touching his heart.

Because it has been postponed for a year, the retrospective of Eaton’s career at LBMA aligns almost precisely with a big anniversary. “It falls on this marker for exactly 25 years since I started making money with my art in Detroit as an artist,” says Eaton. “Twenty-five years since I started all this way. And wait until this year made this lovely bookmark.

At first he was intimidated at the idea of ​​filling two entire floors with artwork, but once he started showcasing the exhibit in Photoshop, he had a revelation: he could have used more ‘space. Ultimately, the exhibition of the highlights of his career became a roadmap of his life.

“I’m able to take the highlights of everything I’ve ever done, and this great quest as an artist to understand who I am, what I can do and what makes me happy, and how I can get closer to great art, ”he says. “This whole process is presented to everyone, the good, the bad and the ugly. “

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